Preparing for the Holidays Doesn’t Have to Be a Hassle

The season of holiday shopping is here, and so is the inevitable financial stress — but you don’t have to panic. We’re here to help you conquer the chaos and take control of your finances, so you can give great gifts and feel great about what you spent too.

Budget the Day Away.

The first step for tackling the holiday shopping season is setting a budget. Your budget sets the tone of your whole shopping game plan — what gifts you can buy, which deals to look for, which payment type to use, and more.

Sure, you’ve probably heard the spiel about the importance of budgeting before. It can sound a bit intimidating or overwhelming at times — but it doesn’t have to be. Check out our budgeting guidebook or ask for budgeting help from one of our representatives to make this daunting task easier. The internet is also laden with websites and programs that can do the budgeting for you. Find what works best for you, then set up a spread sheet, scrawl it out in a notebook, or iron it out online. Find your budgeting flow.

Sit down with a nice hot cup of cocoa, wrap up in a cozy blanket, and budget away. Make a night of it and feel confident in your ability to get your finances together. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

Pick Your Weapons of Choice.

There are many ways to fund your holiday shopping. Figure out how much money you have available to spend immediately and what items you will need to buy through credit cards or fund with a holiday loan.

Our advice? Put down the high-interest rate credit cards and check out ours. Our credit cards* feature interest rates significantly lower than the national average; plus, our special holiday loan** can help you to fund your shopping and pay it off responsibly. We understand that our members have a lot of holiday cheer to spread, and we want to help you make it happen.

Start Your List, Check It Twice.

Santa isn’t the only one who should have a list. Get a pen and some paper (or save a note in your phone) and jot down everyone you want to give gifts to this season. Determine how much you can spend for each person first, then brainstorm gifts for each of your names. This is the fun part! Put on Santa’s hat and think of creative ways to show some love to your favorite people.

If you find yourself spreading your budget too thin, go back and adjust the names on your list and the spending amount. Remember, not every gift needs to cost money — don’t underestimate the joy that a homemade gift or a good deed can bring to the holiday season.

Choose Wisely.

You have your gift list, now you need to perfect it. Browse the internet to get an idea of the deals that will be happening near you, either in a store or online.

Compare deals you see for the same item across stores and websites — one company may be selling the item for significantly less than another. You deserve the best deal. Put in the work to find out which stores are promoting the best sales, and make sure the item is still in budget after you factor in taxes and shipping costs.

Finalize Your Plan of Attack.

While many companies offer deals throughout the months of November and December, some are specific to days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday. These two days can easily become chaotic if you don’t have a good game plan.

Research which deals are offered online and which require you to show up in person. Because of health and safety concerns this year, many stores will most likely be shifting to an online Black Friday experience, but you should still double check. Also research store hours for any place you might need to visit in person. Store hours may likely be adjusted for Black Friday and COVID-19 precautions, so keep a close eye on company websites for the latest updates.

Another shopping holiday to look out for is the lesser known but crucially important Small Business Saturday. It falls between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and it is more important than ever this year. With the pandemic still in effect, many small businesses are struggling. On Small Business Saturday, local businesses usually break out great deals and some even organize seasonal events for their customers. This day is a great way to give back to your community, so look into the local businesses nearest to you and see how you can support them.

Shop Responsibly.

Now that you have a budget, a list, and a plan of attack – you are all set to shop responsibly this holiday season. The holidays are a time for joy, so don’t let your finances stress you out. Instead of panic-spending and budget-breaking, take some time to prepare and research your options, like low-interest credit cards or a holiday personal loan. You’ll be happy you did, especially when those on your gift list and your wallet are thanking you.

*APR varies up to 18% for all Visa Credit Cards when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

**APR = Annual Percentage Rate. APR as low as 6.99%, terms up to 12 months, minimum loan amount is $500, and maximum loan amount is $2,400. A $2,400 loan at 6.99% APR for 12 months would have a monthly payment amount of $207.65. Actual rate will vary based on creditworthiness and loan term. Subject to credit approval. One holiday loan open per member. Refinance option for prior holiday loan is available, see credit union for details. Maximum dollar amount able to borrow is based on creditworthiness and loan term. A First Financial Federal Credit Union membership is required to obtain a Personal Loan, and is open to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties. A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account/loan.

Holiday Shopping Hacks: Your Black Friday Survival Guide

Judging from the massive marketing blitz and predictable purchasing frenzy, one could make the argument that Black Friday is a holiday all its own. The day after Thanksgiving is traditionally considered to be the official start of the holiday season.

Black Friday by the Numbers

With this yearly retail extravaganza just around the corner, you might be asking yourself, “What will an estimated 174 million Americans do on Black Friday this year?” Before you start googling, we’ll save you the research. They’ll spend the day—the entire weekend, actually—shopping. Wait. You knew that already? Fair enough. Did you know that the average Black Friday shopper is expected to spend more than $500? Even though we’re dealing in estimates and averages, that adds up to a lot of people and purchasing!

As online and mobile sales increase (especially this year), traditional Black Friday shoppers may be less than usual – but either way, there’s bound to be lots of shopping going on either in person or online. With millions of people frantically scouring stores for the best deals of the season and even more hunting for deals on their smartphones, a little strategy may help you keep the holiday shopping season merry and bright!

7 Tips for Having the Best Black Friday

While there are probably as many shopping hacks as there are shoppers, we’ve narrowed the suggestions down for you. Here are 7 ideas to help you survive Black Friday with your sanity and your budget intact:

Create a shopping strategy. Since most major retailers advertise their Black Friday specials ahead of time, it’s easy to plan ahead by scanning sales flyers and online promotions. Knowing exactly what you’re looking for will save hours of wandering and wondering.

Get in and get out. Most of the time, it pays to shop slowly and carefully—but not on Black Friday! If you’re going to score the best values at multiple stores, you need to grab the items you want, check out, and head to the next store. The midnight madness is no time for browsing.

Maximize your mobile experience. If you’re planning to take advantage of mobile deals or online specials, you can save time and frustration by downloading all the necessary apps in advance.

Prepare your profiles. How many times have you found a deal online, placed the item in your cart, and then had to waste time setting up a customer profile before checking out? Don’t miss out on limited-time-only deals. Create your profile on websites before it’s time to shop.

Look for the lock. Before you enter your personal details and credit card information on a website, make sure the web address starts with “https” and there’s a closed padlock icon next to address. These details indicate the site is secure. If the address starts with “http” or the padlock is open, see if you can find a deal somewhere else. You don’t want to add potential fraud and identity theft from an unsecure site to your holiday list this year.

Team up for double the fun. Finding amazing bargains is fun—but isn’t it better when you have someone to share in the excitement? If you’re going to engage in shopping shenanigans at 2:00 AM, you might as well do it with your favorite shopping buddy!

Shop early. Shop often. It would be logical to think that Black Friday is limited to—well, Friday. But in an attempt to boost sales, stores like Amazon and Best Buy often run early sales. And with the rising popularity of Cyber Monday, you’ll most likely also find money-saving specials all weekend long!

Hopefully, these ideas will help you save some money this winter holiday season and have a little more fun in the process. To avoid any last-minute budget crunches, talk to us about setting up a Holiday Club account.* Setting aside money throughout the year is a great way to avoid financial stress and focus on spending your time with loved ones and joining in on all the merry festivities!

*A $5 deposit in a base savings account is required for credit union membership prior to opening any other account. All Holiday Club Savings funds are deposited into a First Financial Checking or Base Savings Account. All personal memberships are part of the Rewards First program and a $5 per month non-participation fee is charged to the base savings account for memberships not meeting the minimum requirements of the program. Visit firstffcu.com to view full Rewards First program details, and to view the Tier Level Comparison Chart.

 

 

How to Safely Shop for the Holidays this Year

It’s been a stressful year, plus now add the usual hustle and bustle of the upcoming holiday season and you might start to feel a bit of pressure – especially on your budget that might have taken a big hit over the past few months. Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can help make the holiday season a little less stressful. Below are some tips on how to take advantage of holiday shopping trends to make the most of the holidays without getting overwhelmed.

Take advantage of online ordering.

With the colder weather coming, experts are predicting a resurgence in coronavirus cases. Many stores are prepared. They’re encouraging people to shop online while also increasing their capacity for curbside pick-up. There are reasons to take advantage of this service that go beyond health and safety. Often provided as a free service, curbside pick-up is great way to save yourself shopping time. Rather than gathering the items yourself, you can simply drive up and have everything placed in your car for you. Plus, you’ll resist the temptation to buy extra items you see in the store that you don’t really “need.”

Start shopping now.

According to Business Insider, increased online ordering has shipping providers predicting a backlog this season (which most people have probably experienced this year due to the ongoing pandemic). This may cause issues for last minute shoppers who are looking to get their orders in time for holiday celebrations. Another problem we’ve seen this year, is the fact that store inventory is lower and stock may run out faster than usual.  Shopping as early as possible also gives you more opportunities to take advantage of sales, and continue to save for any potential items you might still need as it gets further into December.

Keep gift giving simple.

A still unstable economy means tighter budgets for most people and concerns about spending a large amount of money on gifts. Gift cards are always a simple, practical option – which are easy to buy and send. Gift card recipients will also get the choice to be able to purchase what they truly want or need. All First Financial locations offer Visa Gift Cards available in denominations of $20 to $500, and are just $3.95 per card.* Stop by your local branch drive thru today to get yours!

Combine holiday activities.

Just like summer vacation from school, winter break can add pressure to find safe entertainment options for the family this year. Look for fun and easy ways to get the whole family involved in holiday preparations.  Make decorating into a mini holiday party with festive music. Assign everyone a decorating task and hand out prizes for different categories like “most creative” or “fastest decorator.” Instead of shopping, homemade holiday gifts can be a nice family activity. Another idea is to look for apps that blend entertainment such as reading or games with charitable causes to help kids learn to give to others, especially this time of year.

While the pandemic has changed the way we do things or may celebrate this year, there is still room for holiday joy and family memories. Wishing you and yours a happy upcoming holiday season!

*If the gift card is inactive for 360 days, an inactivity fee of $2.50 per month will be charged to the card – starting from the date of activation. If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee is $15.00.

Article Source: Naomi Anderson, CUInsight.com

 

Why You Should Avoid Store Credit Cards This Holiday Season

Can you believe it’s already November? Before you know it – the holidays will be upon us. As you start making those lists and checking them twice, think long and hard about opening a store credit card if you were planning to this holiday season.

A recent report from LendingTree® announced that 44% of consumers planned to open a store credit card this year. However, that same report said that 56% of those who have had store credit cards in the past have regretted opening and using them. Sure, the initial sign-up bonuses can be great – but if you carry a balance on one of these cards, the interest you pay with those high APRs can easily exceed what you saved with that initial discount.

While the salesperson may do a great job of talking about the perks and discounts you can get when you sign up for a store card, they almost never talk about the high interest rates you’ll have when you use it. In fact, the average APR for a new store credit card is 24.24%!

Here are a few tips for getting the most out of a store credit card:

  • Beware of deferred interest: While special financing deals really can save you big bucks, it’s crucial that you play by the rules – because what you don’t know can really cost you down the road.
  • Know your APR and fees before you apply: This is good advice with any credit card, but it’s particularly important with store cards because the interest rates are so high – and the pressure is often on to make a quick decision.
  • Anticipate deadlines, exceptions, and spending minimums:  Virtually every card has quirks and nuances. The more you know about them before you apply, the better.
  • Look for the other logo: Some store credit cards can only be used with one retailer or one group of retailers. Others can be used almost anywhere and will have a Visa or Mastercard logo on it. That’s an important distinction.
  • Resist the pressure: If you’re offered a store card and you aren’t sure what to do, say no and then read up on the card later. If the offer still sounds good to you and you know you won’t carry a balance, apply the next time you shop there.

Another idea: Bypass the store credit card and seek lower interest alternatives from First Financial. We offer personal loans to help you get through the holiday season, and low interest credit card options too.* While you won’t get 20% off your first purchase at your favorite store – you also won’t be counted in the 59% of those with buyer’s remorse who are paying off holiday debt well into the new year, after opening that store credit card. You’ll also enjoy a much lower interest rate, which equals lower monthly payments as well. Shop smarter this holiday season!

*Credit Card APR varies up to 18% when you open your account based on your credit worthiness. These APRs are for purchases, balance transfers, and cash advances and will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Subject to credit approval. Rates quoted assume excellent borrower credit history. Your actual APR may vary based on your state of residence, approved loan amount, applicable discounts and your credit history. No Annual Fees. Other fees that apply: Cash advance fee of 1% of advance ($5 minimum and $25 maximum), Late Payment Fee of up to $25, Foreign Transaction Fee of 1% plus foreign exchange rate of transaction amount, $5 Card Replacement Fee, and Returned Payment Fee of up to $25. A First Financial membership is required to obtain a VISA Credit Card or a Personal Loan and is available to anyone who lives, works, worships, volunteers, or attends school in Monmouth or Ocean Counties.

 

 

How to Keep Halloween from Scaring Your Budget

The average American spends around $86 on Halloween – between candy, decorations, costumes, and the like. And that’s only the national average, so many of us tend to spend quite a bit more.

If you’re on a strict budget this year, that amount might give you a scare. However, you can keep from frightening your budget this year. Try these tricks to help you stick to a painless Halloween budget.

Costumes

One of the main parts of Halloween fun are the costumes. However, dressing up can get costly – especially if you have several members of your family dressing up this year. Instead of buying a $40+ costume at the store or attempting to sew one together, turn looking for children’s costumes into a family game.

Head to your local consignment shop or thrift store and give each child an envelope with no more than $10 inside. Split up into teams to pick out a costume or find items that can be put together to create one. Don’t forget to also look in your closets at home to see if there’s anything you already have that can be used for dressing up.

Also check with your family, friends and neighbors to see if they have any costumes or items they aren’t using that you can borrow. Don’t spend a fortune on something that will most likely only be worn for a few hours.

Decorations

Some people really love to go all out for Halloween. However, if you keep blowing your budget on expensive Halloween decorations each year – you may be paying off your debt well into Halloween next year. If you need to stretch your budget, stop by your local dollar store for decorations. You’ll be surprised at the great items you’ll find!

Also save and reuse your decorations year after year. Store all your ghouls and goblins in a reusable bin once the season is over. Then pull them out next Fall without having to spend a dime!

Candy

Do you live in a neighborhood or on a street where it seems like the amount of trick or treaters are endless? Candy can be pricy too. If you know you’re typically visited by what seems like hundreds of kids in costume, don’t buy gourmet chocolate bars. Pick up a large bag of assorted candy in bulk instead. Do an online search for coupons and deals, too. Buy what you can afford, and when the candy is gone, it’s gone.

Try to keep track of how many trick-or-treaters visit your home so you can plan amounts better for next year. You probably also don’t want to overbuy and then be stuck with tons of candy sitting around either. The key here is to plan ahead!

Pumpkins

Pumpkins may only last a few weeks at most. And with that being said, they aren’t always cheap either. Once you start, it’s hard to stop with just buying one pumpkin too. From the porch to your patio, stairs and table – you might pick up 20 pumpkins when all is said and done.

Give yourself a strict pumpkin budget. Let your kids each pick only one or don’t spend more than $20 (or whatever number you decide is best for your budget).

While going to the pumpkin patch is a great Autumn past-time, don’t buy your pumpkins there if you’re looking to save money. Instead, buy pumpkins from the grocery store (they’re usually always cheaper and still look great!).

Greeting Cards

Is sending out a Halloween greeting card really necessary, even if it’s for your adorable niece or nephew or grandchild? Cards can be $5+ each nowadays, and that’s not cheap for something that may very well end up in the garbage can after it’s opened and read. If you really feel that you need to send a greeting card, try making your own instead. Use cardstock and get creative. Or hit the dollar store for cards – this is a best kept secret.

Fall Activities

Are there lots of farms with weekend harvest and Halloween events going on this month near you? The good news is, admission is typically free or not very expensive. Take advantage of this gorgeous time of year and all the farm budget-friendly activities such as corn mazes, pumpkin bowling, and the like. Take a hayride with the family or spend a few hours walking around the farm. You can also pile into the car and take a drive to look at the changing colors of the leaves, pick some apples, or pack up an outdoor picnic at your favorite local park. Look at your community calendar or website and scope out what’s going on near you.

Traditions

Plan a weekend for family or friend get-togethers this Fall. Save money by staying at home and trying a new tradition with your crew. Ideas include a Fall food cooking day (caramel apples, pumpkin pie, etc.), watch scary movies together, or do a backyard scavenger hunt.

It’s definitely possible to have an unforgettable Halloween without haunting your budget! With some planning and creativity, you’ll have a great holiday celebration without giving your bank account a fright. Happy Halloween!

Article Source: Dave Ramsey

How to Get a Great Valentine’s Gift on a Limited Budget

Valentine’s Day is … tomorrow. If you are still trying to find a last minute unique gift idea for that special someone in your life and stay in line with the budget that you’re probably still paying off holiday bills from, keep reading! You can still give your Valentine a great day tomorrow without going broke.

The most important word you can remember about Valentine’s Day: Thoughtfulness. You truly don’t have to spend a ton of money on lavish gifts, experiences, or dinner at a fancy restaurant. Don’t underestimate the value of a nice home cooked meal, a homemade card, or an activity you both love doing together.

Go on an Outing this V-Day

Sometimes an experience creates more memories than a big gift or expensive flower delivery. Would you rather buy your true love a giant flower arrangement that more than likely won’t be around to see February 21st, or recall a fun day out together that you can look back on for years to come? Planning an actual activity also shows creativity and effort. Need some lower cost ideas?

  • Go geocaching – this is completely FREE. What is geocaching? This is a real life outdoor treasure hunting game using the GPS device on your smartphone. You will need to find and register locally, and then you’ll be given GPS coordinates to navigate to and find a geocache container that’s hidden at the designated location. Find out more here.
  • Try an escape room – averages about $30 a person. This is a lower cost, fun and adventurous activity to try with your loved one. You’ll need to work together and communicate, and it’ll be an exciting experience you won’t soon forget. Hit the web and find out where the nearest escape room is to you.
  • Wine and paint class – another lower cost activity that is BYOB, and typically under $40 a person. You’ll get to paint together, drink wine, and take home some beautiful artwork! To save even more money, try looking for deals online for a class local to you on Groupon.
  • Go axe throwing – cost also averages about $30 a person. See if there’s a local venue near you for throwing axes and/or darts. These locations are also typically BYOB which will save you some more money as well.
  • Actually see a movie in the theater – when was the last time you went to the movies? These days it seems like most people tend to take advantage of Netflix and other streaming at home movie services. This also is probably one of the cheaper outing options on this list, around $20 per person. Check your local theater and purchase tickets online in advance.

Ways to Save on Flowers

Being that Valentine’s Day is tomorrow – it’s probably going to be tougher to order online now, have them delivered on the actual holiday, and not pay a fortune. If you are in this boat and didn’t preorder, instead of purchasing a whole bouquet – don’t underestimate the gesture of buying just one single long stemmed rose, or try a less expensive flower bouquet instead (think red/pink carnations).

Are you against the idea of buying flowers altogether and spending a great deal of money on something that may not last longer than a few days? How about sending your Valentine a photo of virtual flowers. You can send them anything, they’ll last, and won’t cost you a dime!

But, if you’re still set on buying flowers – look online for deals, or try ordering through a cash back site like Rakuten.

How to Save on Valentine’s Dinner

At this point, it’s probably going to be next to impossible to get a dinner reservation. However, most of the time a home cooked meal is more private, less expensive, and better than dining out.

Do you have an InstantPot? This wonderful kitchen device allows you to cook a gourmet-like meal quickly. If you don’t – hit your local Target or Walmart and pick one up (they range in price with an average of around $50, but you can probably get one on sale or look for store coupons too). All you have to do is find a recipe, purchase your ingredients, close the lid, and push a button. You’ll impress your love and probably have leftovers for the next day also! You can even make dessert in your InstantPot such as cheesecake, the day before. Or if you want to opt for something easier to make the day of that’s still seasonal – try your own chocolate covered strawberries and open a bottle of wine or champagne.

If You Still Insist on Buying a Gift

If you’ve thought about it and you are set on purchasing a thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift but don’t want to spend a fortune, opt for one that includes a photo of the two of you. This is still sentimental, a nice memory, and won’t cost a lot. Simply print out your favorite picture together at your local Walgreens (which you can do almost immediately), put it in a nice frame, and if you have extra time – have it engraved.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Article Source: Rick Broida for cnet.com